A film that embraces intimacy, intensity and desire in lesbian relationships
BY CHARLOTTE GRIMWADE, IMAGE VIA YOUTUBE
“You know these kind of couples that they spend like ten years together and they get married. They divorce in one year.” Boldly fuelled by both cynicism and naivety, Duck Butter is a funny and relatable portrayal of two queer women taking an alternative approach to relationships.
Written by Miguel Arteta and Alia Shawkat, the film was released five years ago on 27 April 2018. Alia plays the film’s protagonist, Naima, acting alongside Laia Costa in this witty tale about two women disillusioned with modern dating. On the night Naima and Laia’s character, Sergio, first meet, the latter impulsively suggests they spend 24-hours straight with each other, having sex every hour. Though Naima initially declines, by the next day the experiment has begun over at Sergio’s house. “We can skip time”, insists Sergio, propelling Naima into a hectic experience of compromise and conflict.
Duck Butter was hastily filmed over a genuinely improvised 24-hour period. The simultaneous excitement and exhaustion that both actors must have felt is reflected in their characters. It’s also what inspired both Alia and Laia, with the latter stating in an interview that the continuous filming was something new that allowed her to “grasp the unique moment and just do it”.
There’s something intrinsically raw and relatable about Duck Butter’s portrayal of relationships, even in these unusual circumstances. Whereas Sergio is eccentric, extroverted and spontaneous, Naima is cautious, observant and overwhelmed by her new partner’s frankness. It’s a simultaneously intimate but jarring dynamic.
After the last few years of Covid lockdowns, Duck Butter seems more relevant than ever as countless couples were forced to spend days isolating together in their homes. Whilst Naima and Sergio’s time together is a choice, relatable moments of annoyance and disagreement punctuate their interactions as their time together progresses.
There’s something oddly beautiful about Naima and Sergio’s intense 24 hours. Whilst they obviously have initial chemistry, there are wonderfully candid instances of the pair gradually learning more about each other. They make art together, walk Sergio’s dog, play the piano and rant about their mothers, all whilst breaking down their initial observations and assumptions.
It’s possible that Duck Butter acts as a parody of lesbian relationships. Jokey stereotypes about WLW couples moving in together after a week of knowing each other flood queer TikTok feeds. Whilst sexuality is a key theme emphasised throughout Duck Butter, it’s something both protagonists are clearly confident in. They meet at a gay bar and hang out with other lesbian couples, and most crucially talk openly with each other about their formative years spent discovering their sexuality.
One of the most significant aspects of Duck Butter is its consideration of the conflict that comes with making art. At the very start of the story, we see Naima disagree with her new directors about the tone of her role in a new indie film project. Similarly, the couple disagree on the value of song covers, with Sergio arguing that only originals are of any value. These moments are frustrating and tense, contrasting earlier instances of harmony and ultimately maintaining the plot’s momentum.
By the end of the film, Naima and Sergio’s relationship isn’t meant to be. It’s undeniable, however, that the two women have influenced each other for the better, whether it’s Sergio singing an Elvis Presley cover, or Naima overcoming her fear of dogs and finally rescuing one she sees on the street.
Whilst the ending is possibly underwhelming or disheartening, there’s something enjoyable about this whimsical narrative focused on intensity and brevity. It’s funny and candid, giving queer women characters a chance to star in a quirky romcom narrative.
Although it received mixed reviews upon its release, Duck Butter is still an easy and enjoyable watch five years on. It speaks to universal relationship insecurities and frustrations experienced during lockdown, all whilst considering the complex but beautiful relationship between queerness, art and conversation.
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